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Unlucky or deluded? One man’s attempt to swim the Atlantic

Ben Hooper’s plan to swim 2,000 miles from Senegal to Brazil – complete with sharks, storms and deadly jellyfish – didn’t work out. Alex Moshakis meets him to find out why

One sunny morning last November, Ben Hooper, a 38-year-old former policeman, waded into the Atlantic Ocean from a beach in Dakar, Senegal, and plunged right in. In film of the moment, Hooper appears thick set, almost podgy. He’d spent the past year bulking up and now layers of fat concealed muscle beneath. He wore a sports watch, black goggles provided by a sponsor and a pair of tight blue shorts. The sun had risen early, and by 10.33am, when Hooper entered the water, the ocean temperature had reached 30C, a lukewarm bath. A group of reporters gawked from the shallows. Most of them squinted in the bright light.

Hooper had been in Dakar for six weeks, preparing to swim to Natal, northeast Brazil, 1,879 miles away. If successful, he would become the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean – 12 miles a day for over 140 days straight – an unfathomable feat. As he swam away from the beach, Hooper began to feel tears in his eyes. A mile later he “cried like a baby”. The launch represented the culmination of three years’ planning, and the relief was overwhelming. Later that day, as the adrenaline wore off and the magnitude of the task began to sink in, he swam against currents that made it difficult to achieve significant mileage. Later, while he recovered on the support boat, a 37-year-old catamaran, he wrote the first in a series of blog posts he’d publish during the attempt. “Spent the night drifting under sea anchor,” it read, “4.5 miles closer to making history.”

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